Commenting as the government releases its SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said:
"There is no doubt that the system for supporting pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is not working as well as it should be. A decade of chronic underfunding, coupled with growing demands has pushed a fragile system to breaking point. The current situation is clearly not sustainable and it is right that government should seek to engage with as many people as possible to bring about the necessary reforms.
"At first glance there are some sensible ideas contained within the green paper. It makes sense to have a more consistent system for identifying needs and we support the plan to more to a standardised EHCP process. We agree that Alternative Provision has a vital role to play in the system and welcome the suggestion that there will be greater funding stability for this important part of the sector.
"However, we are not convinced that enough is being done to ensure that all pupils get access to the vital support services they need as soon as they need them. We agree with government that early identification and intervention is essential and the key to improving pupil outcomes – schools know this instinctively, but we also know that waiting lists to see specialists, such as speech and language therapists, are currently far too long and we see little evidence at this stage that the government has ambitious enough plans to properly address this. ‘Clarifying roles’ is one thing, but unless those services are properly resourced, it is unlikely to make a significant difference.
"Mainstream and special schools alike work incredibly hard to support the needs of all children. Schools cater for pupils with a diverse range of needs and the overwhelming majority already have a highly inclusive culture, supporting every child to the best of their abilities, and putting in place additional support where it is needed. However, they need the resources to be able to do this – the challenge here is not one of culture, but of a persistent lack of funding from central government.
"All schools, mainstream, special and alternative provision settings work incredibly hard to support pupils with SEND, but the reality is that they are doing so with insufficient resources. The bottom line is that we need to make sure each part of the sector has the resources it needs to meet the varying needs of pupils with SEND and is able to access the specialists pupils need at the earliest possible opportunity. That is what will make the biggest difference."
First published 29 March 2022